People, places and photography

Gavin Gough tells us how a one year sabbatical turned into a full-time photographic career.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Photo by Gavin GoughWhen Gavin Gough left work in 2003 to go on a one-year sabbatical he didn't realise that his round the world trip and his Canon film camera would lead to magazines, guide books and international advertising campaigns using his work.

"I think a love of travelling came first but the photography compliments it very well. I've always enjoyed recording my experiences and keeping a visual record of my travels."

Even though Gavin is a great believer in serendipity, leaving everything to chance is just too risky and he would miss too many important events with this approach. So for him, careful planning is the key and before going anywhere he will research the place he is visiting, seeing what the climate will be in a specific location at different times of the year and noting when various festivals will be held. When the research is done, the hard work really begins as festivals are fast-moving events where you have to work quickly to catch the right light at the right time. "Plenty of memory cards are important for this as is a versatile storage system. I use a 250Gb Hyperdrive and carry a laptop with several external hard-drives to store RAW files." Taking more than one memory card may also be a good idea as that way if you lose one you don't lose all of your work. Of course working at constant high speeds isn't recommended so pacing yourself is important too.  Patience is certainly a virtue when capturing images and Gavin's work is typified by periods of intense concentration and quick shooting followed by long periods of preparation and waiting in between.

When you're visiting a foreign country it's easy to just do all the things designed for tourists which is fine, to a degree, as iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Taj Mahal which have been photographed millions of times still need to be shot but remember to also provide buyers with a variety and some more creative or abstract options.

"Yes, I photograph popular places but I try to depict them in new ways. I also visit a lot of locations that rarely see tourists. It's important to offer a mix of locations.Photo by GAvin Gough Photos of popular tourist attractions may find a greater market in guidebooks and travel brochures while locations off the beaten track might be more interesting to travel magazine editors. Again, the mix is important. Think about what your shooting and how as there's no point in reproducing the same images that many others have made before."

People live in places, shocking I know but it's true and they should also play an important part in your work after all people can often define a place and how you interact and photograph them can play a crucial part in your travel photography.

"There doesn't seem to be any benefit in visiting a location and then not interacting with the local people. You might as well stay at home."

Gavin almost invariably asks for permission before he photographs someone.  He can't think of many situations where it would be better if people weren't aware that he was photographing them apart from a candid shot but typically he would approach the person after anyway and ask to take more shots of them. Talking to them and asking for their permission also gives you chance to build a rapport with them. Chat to them, have a conversation and a connection between you and the subject will be created something which is crucial for a good portrait.

"The people I am photographing are as much, if not more, involved with the process of making an image as I am.  There has to be a connection between photographer and subject for an image to work."

It's also important for the viewer to feel connected to the picture and this can be done all with the eyes. A tight frame and a clean, sharp focus on the eyes will help you make the subject the centre of attention. As Gavin said: "Even with a very wide aperture the eyes are the crucial part of a portrait."

Photo by Gavin Gough
Photo by Gavin Gough

As Gavin works mostly in India and Asia the people he meets are very colourful and so are the places they live. Although there are some great black and white photographs of these places, colour is what appeals to Gavin and he'd struggle to take a photo that didn't emphasise the colours he finds.

Photo by Gavin Gough"Colour certainly helps to tell a story, just as much as any other component in a photograph."

When you're creating an image that illustrates the feel of a place Gavin feels you have to take time to experience it before you get your camera out. "You have to have a sense of what the place means and how it is affecting you before you can convey that with any authority. It's no use turning up and firing off 200 frames if you don't have an appreciation of the location first."

With the limitations on airline baggage, travelling light would be a good idea but when you have a job to do it's no good turning up without all the equipment you need so Gavin's camera bags are always heavy and his excess baggage expenses heavier still!

"I always take a GPS unit to record my exact location when photographing and I keep a well-stocked emergency first-aid kit. A good book helps pass time in the departure lounge or bus station and my BlackBerry phone helps me stay in touch with clients and editors when I'm on the move."

He also uses Canon EOS 1Ds MKII bodies with a 16-35mm wide angle, a 24-70mm medium zoom, a 70-200mm IS zoom and an 85mm f/1.2 lens as well as a Lensbaby for when he's feeling especially creative.

"These lenses cover all the focal lengths I need and are all at least f/2.8.Photo by GAvin Gough They're 'L' series lenses, which give the quality I need and they're fast, which allows me to work in low light and to get a narrow depth-of-filed, which is essential if you want to pick out subjects against a background. These lenses suit my style of photography and although I'd recommend them all, it's important that photographers pick equipment which best suits their style and which gives them the best chance of getting the shots they want. I rarely use a tripod because it would slow me down too much. However, I've almost always got one with me and after dark it becomes essential kit."

Gavin, who was recently commended in the Travel Photographer of the Year competition runs the Bangkok Photo School with two fellow photographers. He will also be leading a two-week photo expedition with fellow photographers David duChemin and Matt Brandon. To find out more about his trip or work visit his website: Gavin Gough.

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edsephiroth 13 169 9 United Kingdom
10 Feb 2009 11:36AM
Would have been more interesting to know something about requirement for model-releases, etc.

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